She is the biggest world star in Switzerland: Tina Turner celebrates her 80th birthday on Tuesday. In a big interview, she talks about her turbulent life. She has always been a person who finds the smallest bit of happiness there, where there seems to be none, she says.
LOOKING: Happy birthday! How does it feel to be 80?
Tina Turner: Thank you, it feels good! 80 is just a number! When I was 40, I did not feel any different than now. At the age of 73, I was still on the cover of the German “Vogue”. And, who knows, maybe they’ll ask me again when I’m 83.
Many fans were worried after you made your kidney transplant public last year. How are you today?
Oh, I do not want anyone worried. I feel very good. Thank you.
What goes through your head when you realize that your own body is on strike?
I was always healthy as a horse. So it was a surprise to hear that I had hypertension, and an even greater surprise when I discovered that I had serious medical problems, including cancer and kidney failure.
Were you afraid to die?
No. I was more concerned about how the illness would affect my everyday life. I did not want to be constantly connected to a dialysis machine. But Erwin came to my aid, giving me one of his kidneys. And my body responded very well.
Erwin is your husband. Nevertheless, to donate a kidney is no small matter. Have you been worried about Erwin?
As we prepared for the actual transplant, I was more worried about him than about myself. But my husband is in excellent shape. Even the doctors were surprised when he left for a motorcycle tour shortly after the operation.
What did you learn from these illness experiences?
Patience and acceptance. And how important it is to have a strong partner like Erwin at my side.
Her characteristic laugh is brighter when she talks about her 17-year-younger husband Erwin. She calls him “Darling,” he calls her “Schatzi.” The two have been a couple for more than 30 years.
They like to say they are retired. But you did an autobiography last year, you were recently at the Broadway premiere of your musical “Tina” in New York, a cinematic documentary about your life is currently in progress, and now your newest art object “That’s my life – The Tina Turner Birthday Collectible ». Does not really sound like retirement.
Right! But Erwin calls retirement. He just likes to keep me busy.
They are known for their emotional stage performances in short dresses and high heels. Do not you miss these times?
Not at all. That’s the biggest misunderstanding about me: People often think that I am also the sexy Tina privately, who they have seen on stage. But I’m not like that at all.
Do not you like running around in high heels?
High heels are nice, but I prefer flat shoes. In my life, comfort is more of a concern now. I enjoy the peace of retreat and have time to think.
What are you thinking about?
I ask myself more questions than before. Instead of just thinking about the bad times with Ike (her ex-husband, editor’s note), I wonder why he behaved the way he did – I want to understand it. I’m happy because I like to see myself as a seeker.
A round birthday is a good opportunity to look back. The Tina Turner we know today entered the world as Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee. Did you have a happy childhood?
Yes and no. My mother left when I was 11 years old. And I think I already had that sadness in me then; but at the same time i was always very positive and optimistic, always wanted to learn, improve myself, make my life more beautiful.
Were you a simple kid?
No. I was a real tomboy, always curious. I liked to go on an expedition and spend hours walking through the countryside, climbing trees, watching animals. Nature was my refuge.
What made you happy at the time?
To sing! I sang in the church, and we did wonderful community picnics in Nutbush, where I sang with Mr. Bootsy Whitelaw, a local trombonist. I always wanted to entertain the people around me.
What makes you happy today?
That’s easy. Erwin!
Did you have many friends as a child?
I spent most of my time with my sister Alline and my cousins. We were a kind of pack. I think children were more creative then because we did not have as many distractions as the kids today. We loved listening to the radio, going to the movies and creating our own little shows. I was once allowed to watch a movie and retold the whole storyline for Mama Georgie, my grandmother, including the death scenes.
Did you know then what you wanted to become later?
You can or may not believe it now: In my school yearbook, my job is the job: Entertainer.
When did you first get paid for singing?
I was in a department store with my mother when I was four or five, and she put me on a stool so I could sing for the shop assistants. I was a small thing, but the shop assistants gave me their tip for my piggy bank. So you could say that even then I started to make money as a singer.
Do you remember what it felt like at first to be an entertainer? Was it the way you imagined it?
In the beginning it was wonderful. I was a teenager who wore evening dresses and jewelry stood on a stage and sang in front of a real crowd. Everything I always wanted! It was not as glamorous as it sounds. We worked hard and the nights were long.
How did Anna Mae become Tina Turner?
I was not crazy about giving up my name, not even for work. But Ike wanted it that way. And I was too young to understand that I would give up much more than that. In retrospect, it was symbolic. I became Ike’s property. That’s why it was so important for me to keep my name after I left him.
What did you enjoy the most in the beginning?
Singing and dancing and, of course, the opportunity to visit exciting places like New York. We played at the Apollo, and I jumped off the stage because I was so excited to perform there.
What was the hardest part?
I was already a mother of four children (Ike Turner’s sons Ike Jr. and Michael, Tina Turner’s son Craig and their mutual son Ronnie) when I was in my twenties. I knew they missed me and I hated to leave them behind. But I had no choice. With my performances, we made a living, and Ike would never have allowed me to miss a show. Just a reminder: I was back on stage two days after Ronnie’s birth. There was no way to discuss it because Ike violently settled disagreements.
Physical abuse has psychological effects. Have you ever had depression?
At that time nobody talked about it. That was part of my daily life, my survival.
What helped you to survive these times?
I have always been a person who finds the least bit of happiness where there seems to be none. This gift I had as a child and later when I was with Ike. Maybe it’s from my inner strength, my faith. Buddhism definitely helped me.
What about drugs?
No drugs. Shopping was my thing.
No way! Try to make two shows a night for fifty years – there’s enough movement!
The story of how you left Ike is almost a legend. But what about the next day, have you ever had any doubts or was there regret in the weeks and years after that?
No mercy. No doubt. But being free … well, that was wonderful! I did not care that I had no money, that I had to clean in strange houses to make a living. It was a struggle for work, and many record companies said a black middle-aged woman had no future. I had entered a world of light, laughter, and love and believed in my heart. I firmly believed that good things would happen, that I would go on and on.
When Tina Turner talks about old memories, she seems completely calm and open. You immediately believe her when she says she left her past behind.
They were the first black female rock’n’roll star. Why did you really want to sing rock ‘n’ roll?
I knew that I had the voice for it. My voice is not beautiful, but it has reach, power, and emotion. I wanted to release her. I felt it for the first time when I recorded “River Deep Mountain High” for Phil Spector. There was a big sound waiting to be let out of me. I wanted this big stage and the big audience that belonged to it. I firmly believed that I could do it.
Did you experience racism?
Racism was everywhere. When we were on the road, hotels canceled our reservations as soon as they saw our faces. Police officers harassed us and openly demanded money so as not to harass us any further. Our “wardrobe” was often nothing more than a storeroom and we were not given access to a toilet. In the music business, black channels did not play the music that was too “white” at the time, and white channels did not play the music that sounded “black” to them.
How was it in Europe?
I think people in Europe are more tolerant. They do not seem to focus on skin color as much as people in the US.
What was the turning point in your new career as a solo artist?
There were a few turning points. How shall I put it? The stars were aligned. David Bowie told a group of music managers in the Capitol that I was his favorite singer, and they hurried to see me at the Ritz that evening. Keith Richards was in the audience and invited me to sing with the Stones. I went to London to record Let’s Stay Together. Then the miracle of my Private Dancer album and What’s Love Got To Do With It.
World star in Zurich
Tina Turner was born in 1939 in Nutbush, Tennessee. Together with her violent ex-husband Ike (1931-2007) she landed her first hits and toured among others with the Rolling Stones. In 1978, she divorced him and renounced all rights to the common music. Turner became a mega-star in the 1980s and sold more than 200 million records. In 1994 she moved with her partner Erwin Bach (63) to Kusnacht ZH, in 2013 married the couple. In the same year, Turner took Swiss citizenship. With the publication of her biography “My Love Story” was announced that she had suffered a stroke in 2013 and in 2016 was suffering from colon cancer. In 2017 she had survived kidney damage thanks to the organ donation of her husband. On the occasion of her 80th birthday, the impressive collector’s piece “That’s My Life – The Tina Turner Birthday Collectible” will be released on November 26th at tina-turner.rocks. Price: 2450 euros. A bookstore edition is expected in 2020.
In 1984 you published “Private Dancer”. Were you shocked by your own success?
When I was still with Ike, a psychic once told me, “You’ll be among the biggest stars.” I was thrilled that her prediction came true and I thanked the people who helped me.
What fascination do psychics exert on you?
(Laughs) The good guys can make you look into your future as if you were watching the movie of your life.
They made two big films, “Tommy” and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”. Were you excited because you could now be seen on the big screen?
Not for a minute. I was an actress all my life. What people do not realize is that singing and acting are very similar. Both always tell a story.
What was the most fun thing about the “Mad Max” movie?
I had to shave my head, did my own stunts and work with Melvin.
Why do you call him Melvin?
I thought it was funny to call him by his full name, just as I had spoken to one of my sons.
Did you like how you looked with a shaved head? Better than a wig?
I loved it! But: nothing is better than a wig. I’ll never stop wearing them, though there were some of the ’80s that were a bit over the top.
Was there a development in your look on stage?
I realized early that it was really hard to dance in a dress. So I switched to short skirts so my legs could be free. I also enjoyed designing a new look: from the Bob Mackie sequin dress with wings to the designs of Armani or Versace. My new book, “That’s My Life”, features many of the original designs as well as the current pattern of one of my favorite Armani dresses.
What is your must-have beauty product?
Of course, she now also wears red-red lipstick.
Le Baiser De Lalique.
Which compliment surprises you the most?
When people admire my legs. I always thought they were too long and thin, like a pony’s.
If you had not become a singer, what would you have done with your life?
I could have become an interior designer. I have decorated each of my houses. If I went to your house I would change the furniture and redecorate it. I have an eye for it. Our country house is Erwin’s retreat, so I have to keep myself under control. But it’s really hard for me (laughs loudly)!
Read part 2 of the interview with Tina Turner about her life in Switzerland.